All members of Congress can go to SOTU if they wear KN95 or N95 masks
All members of Congress will be invited to attend President Biden's State of the Union address next month, House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker announced Thursday.
Why it matters: The announcement signals a softening of COVID-19 restrictions in the Capitol. Cases are plummeting in Washington, D.C. and around the country, but there are still several guidelines attendees have to follow.
- House members were discouraged from congregating in the chamber during votes as recently as last month amid an explosion of cases due to the Omicron variant.
- Republicans have railed against continued restrictions, including a mask mandate in the House and restrictions on tours for both sides of the building, calling for the Capitol to fully reopen as part of a return to normal.
Driving the news: Walker said in a memo that each member will receive one ticket to the March 1 speech but will not be permitted to bring guests, as was allowed at addresses before the pandemic.
- Walker said attendees must wear a KN95 or N95 mask, adhere to socially distanced seating, sanitize their hands and avoid contact with others.
- "Failure to follow guidelines or removal of the mask in the House Chamber will result in the attendee’s removal from the event and/or fines," Walker wrote.
- That may pose a problem for members like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who have racked up tens of thousands in dollars in fines for refusing to mask up on the House floor.
Members must also test negative for coronavirus within one day of the speech, Walker said.
- "Completion of SARS CoV2 coronavirus vaccination including booster vaccine is strongly recommended at least two weeks prior to the event," he added.
Flashback: The audience at Biden's address to a joint session of Congress last year was heavily restricted.
- Attendance was capped at around 200, significantly less than the 1,600 typically in the chamber during such speeches.